Altercation at McGill!

by Richard Peachey

Science education professor Brian Alters is the director of the Evolution Education Research Centre (EERC) at McGill University in Montreal. During a public lecture to the Royal Society of Canada on March 29, 2006, Alters revealed that a recent research proposal of his had been rejected by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Alters had requested $40,000 from the SSHRC to examine how the rising popularity of "intelligent design" in the U.S. is eroding acceptance of evolution in Canada. The proposal was titled "Detrimental effects of popularizing anti-evolution's intelligent design theory on Canadian students, teachers, parents, administrators and policymakers."

The SSHRC responded: "The committee found that the candidates were qualified. However, it judged the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularizing of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects on Canadian students, teachers, parents and policymakers. Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct. It was not convinced, therefore, that research based on these assumptions would yield objective results. In addition, the committee found that the research plans were insufficiently elaborated to allow for an informed evaluation of their merit. In view of its reservations the committee recommended that no award be made" [emphasis added].

Alters said he was "shocked" by this rejection, and an appeal has been launched. American science educator Philip Sadler, a board member of the EERC, opined: "If he was trying to answer the question as to whether all this popularization had had an impact, he just saved the government $40,000. . . . He found the evidence without doing the study."

The SSHRC later issued a press release stating that "the theory of evolution is not in doubt. SSHRC recognizes the theory of evolution as one of the cornerstones of modem science and our understanding of the modem world." But the council hasn't retracted its rejection of the research proposal!

Brian Alters is a notorious evolutionist. As an expert witness on science education for the plaintiffs, Alters was the only Canadian to testify in last year's "Intelligent Design" trial in Dover, Pennsylvania. In the same year (2005) he received the "Friend of Darwin" award from the noted anti-creationist organization, the (U.S.) National Center for Science Education. He has also joined the NCSE's board of directors.


Among his many credits, Brian Alters is designated as the Sir William Dawson Scholar at McGill University. Sir John William Dawson (1820-1899), trained in geology at the University of Edinburgh, became principal of McGill in 1855 and served there for almost 40 years. Under Dawson's leadership, McGill was transformed from a "cow pasture" to a world-class university, focusing especially on natural and applied sciences. Dawson personally taught many of the science courses. Stephen Leacock, the noted Canadian humorist (also a McGill professor), said of Dawson: "More than that of anyone or group of men, McGill is his work." But . . . John William Dawson is the best known Canadian anti-evolutionist! He fought Darwinism on both scientific and biblical grounds; he wrote over 400 books and articles, most of which focused on the origins debate. But for this renowned anti-evolutionist science educator, Alters might not even have his present job . . . and he certainly wouldn't have the title of Dawson Scholar!

The Royal Society of Canada, perturbed by the recent goings-on, released an official statement to CanWest News Service, defending evolution. The statement asserted: "even if there are still many questions about the precise details of evolutionary change, scientific evidence has never contradicted" several key facts: (1) That the Earth was formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago [note that this "fact" is not strictly about evolution — old-Earth creationists would agree with it!]; (2) That life began about 2.5 billion years ago [up until 2002, they would have said 3.8 billion years ago; the field of ancient microfossils is now very much in flux!]; (3) That "since its first appearance on Earth, life has taken many forms [true, obviously!], all of which continue to evolve, in ways which paleontology and the modern biological and biochemical sciences are describing and independently confirming with increasing precision [no specific evolutionary "facts" delineated here!]. Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their common primordial origin [creationists would say yes, all organisms spring from a common Designer!]." Not many clear "facts" here, but then evolutionists don't actually agree on very much — except that evolution happens! (By the way, guess who was the founding president of the Royal Society of Canada. Yep, Sir John William Dawson, in 1882! As well, he enjoyed the unprecedented honour of serving as president of both the American and British Associations for the Advancement of Science!)

**Note that Sir John William Dawson was in fact an "old-Earth creationist" . . . which would have suited him very well for involvement in today's "Intelligent Design Movement"!

For further reading:

"Sir John William Dawson: A Great Canadian Creationist" <>